Kite Operations recently got back from a tour in Seoul, Korea. We had the time of our lives and I'm also happy to report that the Korean underground rock scene is alive and well!
It mostly all happens in Hongdae, the area built into the downhill slope beneath the campus of Hongik University, a school known for its art program. Hongdae is like the Williamsburg or Wicker Park of Seoul (of all Korea actually). On the weekends, kids and craft people hang out in a park near campus to sell stuff, to draw, to play music on the street, etc. Hongdae hosts several music scenes including ones for indie rock, punk, and hiphop. Each scene is a tight-knit community where everyone knows each other and bands have probably even shared members at some point. There are many clubs to play at, and on any given night there are a number of shows going on. Fliers litter the streets, and given the lack of wall space, are often plastered directly onto the ground for people to look at as they trod along.
Here's a mix of some of my favorite musical discoveries from this trip.
Download the ZIP file at: http://www.megaupload.com/?d=S1ZFFBUJ
1. Cha Tae Hyun - Eechasun Dari
This first song has nothing to do with Korean underground rock. It comes from the soundtrack of a recent comedy called "Bokmyun Dalho" which we saw on the airplane. It's about a rock singer who gets signed by a "trot" label and accidentally becomes a star. This song is representative of the trot style which is a type of retro pop music. In the movie, the lead character Dalho looks down on trot as uncool and music for hicks. However, the genre is enjoying a resurgence these days due to the rise of actual young trot artists. There is also an 80's metal version and a hybrid trot/80's metal version of this song. I prefer this 100% trot version.
Movie trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvI8zpj922Y
2. Bulssazo - Fuck to Fuck (#2)
Pronounced "bool-ssa-jo", their name can either mean "phoenix" or "give me fire". Bulssazo is my favorite band in Korea right now. The band is fronted by Han Sangchul an avid hip-hop fan who writes music liner notes by day and rocks out on exotic heavy-metal guitars by night. He claims his parents still do not know he plays in a band.
3. Zzzaam - Geoul Nori
Despite the strange spelling in English, their name simply means sleep in Korean ("jaam"). This song is the title track from Zzzaam's most recent release in 2006. I believe the band is now defunct. They were known for their heavy use of feedback and shoegazer influences. Over time, their sound evolved into quiet and atmospheric pop although with all the feedback and noise still present, just mixed a lot lower.
4. Cocore - Moon Patrol
Cocore are considered one of the godfathers of Korean indie rock. They started out in the mid 90s strongly influenced by grunge, but with each successive album incorporated more and more experimental sounds. This song comes from their latest release, a double cd, "Fire, Dance With Me" which was recorded during a time when they did not have a regular drummer, and many tracks were done with electronic or perhaps sampled beats.
5. Hollow Jan - Invisible Shadow
Hollow Jan comes out of the hardcore/screamo scene in Korea, but clearly their sound is informed by much more. We saw them play this 8-minute song as an encore at their show at Skunk Hell (same location as the old Club Drug, birthplace of Korean punk) and it made my hairs stand up. "Climactic" doesn't even begin to describe it.
6. Oorineun Sokotdo Saenggyutgo Yujado Neurutdanae ("Sokot band" for short) - Mexico-haeng Gosok Yulcha ("Mexican Express")
The name translates to "We've got underwear and lots of girls". This is a band we really wanted to play with, yet sadly they had disbanded by the time we got there. As an aside, Sokot's completely awesome drummer Jung Jiwan recently joined Cocore. During their short time together they made what is most likely the finest instrumental post-rock in Korea to date.
7. Geurimja Goongjun - Saebbalgan Ulgool
Geurimja Goongjun translates to "Shadow Palace". I don't know much about them other than that they are on the Tunetable Movement label. Tunetable is a new and fast-rising label which in the past year has released several Korean indie bands' albums, many of good quality. I like how the lead guitarist on this song sounds like he (or she) is influenced by Robert Quine.
8. Bulssazo - Shinyong Bulchyangja
While songs such as this one from their most recent album are concise pop songs with furious guitar strumming and soft vocals, much of their newer material is instrumental with more expansive structures and a darker feel. A new drummer and the addition of a 4th member on percussion and effects also appears to have added greater rhythmic complexity to the band's style. Check out this live video from our show together at Bbang:
9. Daydream - Byungshin Gatchi
Daydream is a fantastic shoegaze/Sonic Youth influenced band that we had the pleasure of playing with. They are still working on recording their album, however, this song appears on a compilation released by Club Bbang this year. Here's a video of them jamming out on a new tune: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78dTV9oCdEY
10. Mineri - Silk Lights
Mineri is another band on the Tunetable Movement label. Their main influences seem to be Pavement and perhaps ACDC, and they sing all their songs in English. I asked someone knowledgeable there why some Korean indie bands choose to sing in English. Apparently, some bands just prefer the sound of it for their music.
11. Plastic People - Morning After (alternate version)
This song also appears on the Bbang compilation. This song obviously has a very heavy Yo La Tengo influence. Plastic People's full-length has a much more laid back, almost country sound to it, but according to someone who's seen their recent shows, fuzzed out pop is their new direction.
12. Cocore - Nubbooneeya
Here's a video clip of them playing this same song live: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzl0XB1d5nw
They were awesome when we played together, but from the looks of it, they really killed it on this night!
13. Zzzaam - Haebyuneuro Gayo
A lovely work of noise rock from Zzzaam's first album to close out this mix. This song is a remake of an old Korean hit.
More videos from Seoul at: http://www.youtube.com/koarecs